In the first game of the 2017-18 season, Everton were victorious over Stoke City by a 1-0 scoreline. The Blues started the match poorly, and the tactical setup was strange at best.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was nominally the right wing back, while Leighton Baines was pushed so far forward that at times it seemed Phil Jagielka was playing left-back. Most of the buildup play was directed down Calvert-Lewin’s side, which meant that Baines and Davy Klaassen in particular had trouble getting into the flow of the match. The Dutchman was replaced by Tom Davies early in the second half.
The first half was, in a word, dull - until added time. A very clever buildup initiated by Idrissa Gueye, Sandro Ramirez, and Wayne Rooney was punctuated by a brilliant cross from Dominic Calvert-Lewin. That cross landed perfectly on the head of Rooney, who deftly sent it past Jack Butland. Euphoria at Goodison ensued, and the Blues were off.
Cuco Martina came on for Ashley Williams at halftime, which reverted Everton to an actual formation. That change allowed the Toffees to take the match to Stoke, and the majority of the second half was Kurt Zouma and Ryan Shawcross desperately fending off the attacking moves of Sandro, Rooney, and Calvert-Lewin.
Stoke were buoyed late by the introductions of Peter Crouch and Max Choupo-Moting, but it didn’t matter. Jordan Pickford took over the game with impressive command of his area and a save-of-the-season (yes, it’s early, but trust me - it was that good) candidate on Xherdan Shaqiri.
In the end, the Potters ran out of ideas, and the Blues picked up an enormously important victory to start the campaign. In truth, there was nary a poor performance among the group - only Klaassen could have been considered anything close to disappointing. Rooney and Gana were superb, and there was a sharpness about Everton’s play (particularly in the second half) that was lacking in the Europa League against MFK Ruzomberok.
Hajduk Split is up next, followed by Manchester City in the league. Ronald Koeman and Everton will go into the next week in good heart.